As I am sure avid readers of fp's blog will know this Sunday evening is the monthly joint service between the Methodist church we attend and the local Anglican church. The Anglican church has recently had a new vicar take her place at the helm and in the services we shared together over the Easter period it seemed that the great relationship we have will continue to grow and get stronger.
One of the "quirks" of the last vicar was that although the monthly joint services are "run" and organised by the Methodists one month and the Anglicans the next, the little music group from the Methodist church (Piano:FP, Bass: Son of FP, guitar:Methodist church treasurer) would always play for the services and in fact would always choose the hymns, even if we had no idea what the topic of the service would be if the Anglicans were organising the service.
Whether it be due to the standing tradition being passed onto the new vicar, or maybe the hope that if we pick the hymns they might actually be ones we can play reasonably well, it seems that the new vicar wishes this to continue and we have been asked to pick the hymns for this coming Sunday evening even though it is an "Anglican" service.
Whilst we obviously have no problem at all with picking the hymns it did get me thinking, as I have a lot quite recently, about how so often we can miss out on just how effective a tool music can be in our acts of worship.
As fp mentioned in one of his posts, at the last evening service we had at the methodist church I led the prayers and we centered our thoughts around the Michael Card song El Shaddai, and particularly the lines "to the outcast on her knees, he is the good who really sees, and by his might he sets his children free." There was a real atmosphere that was created by just listening to the song and having the space to center our thoughts on those we felt really needed our prayers and needed to be "set free" from something, whether it be illness, loneliness, or even oppression and potential war as in the case of Zimbabwe. The atmosphere led to one of the members of the congregation speaking in tongues and there being an interpretation of the message given, something I have never experienced before in a Methodist church.
In the morning service that week the preacher who came to our church taught the congregation 2 new, more modern worship songs, although one of them was based around Amazing Grace with a chorus added that I had never heard before. The preacher had a run through of both of these songs before the service as fp was playing the organ and the preacher was leading from the front and playing guitar. After hearing them I asked the preacher if he would like me to add a bit of bass to the proceedings as I has my bass and amp in the car and he great fully accepted. I can honestly say that playing in that service was a truly spiritual experience for me and I am glad that I can use my God given talent to give glory back to God. It also made me chuckle that an acoustic guitar, an electric bass, and a church organ could create such an effective trio in leading those songs, the organ adding a real gospel feel to Amazing Grace that I found almost sublime. Who says that the old and the new are incompatible!!
So, why the lost chord? Well, I have to say that I so often find that preachers and worship leaders can brush over hymns and see them as almost a lesser part in their organising of a service. When the group that organises the acts of evening worship at our church get together to plan the service we very often spend longer picking hymns than any other part of the service.
Hymns and worship songs can be such an inspirational way to give our glory to God. The words and sentiments expressed in many hymns and songs are stunningly beautiful and potent and the emotion that can be created from a church really reaching up to sing out its glory to God can be something totally inspiring to be a part of. And yet, moments of softness and a real intimacy with God can easily be created with just the right music as well. The recent evening service still brings a feeling of God being close with me when I think back to that time of prayer. Sitting with 7 thousand other young people (and probaly quite a few not so young) in the church at Taize and repeating a simple chant as we sat with candles at the foot of a large wooden cross in the center of the church remains one of the life changing moments in my spiritual journey.
I know I may be biased as being a trombone and bass player means that music has always been a large part of my life but I feel I must say that maybe some preachers and worship leaders should be paying more attention to an act that often takes up nearly a third of services and can be just as effective a tool in worshiping God as a well written sermon or stunningly potent and meaningful prayers.
So, a plea, lets take our worship up a key by giving music the space it so often deserves and nearly as often does not receive.